A Senate Review by Senator Josh Brecheen
Last week, my Senate Bill 105 allowing Oklahoma couples the OPTION of entering into a covenant marriage (as already found in three states - Arizona, Arkansas and Louisiana) was approved in committee. I have offered an amended version to be heard on the Senate floor in the weeks ahead.
Unlike traditional marriage, those entering into a covenant marriage must attend pre-marriage counseling as well as agree to attend marriage counseling if they ever decide to petition for a divorce on the grounds of incompatibility. In choosing this OPTION, couples agree to do everything in their power to work through difficulties.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Oklahoma has the highest divorce rate in the nation. Sadly, one in three Oklahomans currently married has been previously divorced. Divorce increases poverty rates and, therefore, the number of people on state and federal assistance especially women because they can’t afford child care and other living expenses as a single parent (especially with children under three years old).
Divorce also affects children emotionally inflicting psychological and social damage. Studies show that kids from divorced families are more likely to suffer from insecurity, anger management issues, lack of trust and anxiety -problems that can be carried into adulthood.
We all realize there are some marriages that simply aren’t salvageable due to destructive choices/ behavior, but there are also equally as many that are thrown away from a lack of true introspection. National statistics show that the average American has a 50 percent chance of divorcing a spouse while additional statistics show that those who remarry after a divorce have a 65 percent chance of divorcing yet again. These statistics could be greatly improved with true introspection and professional counseling.
Studies validate that those who obtain counseling are less likely to seek or obtain a divorce than those who don’t. Counseling provided countless marriages with assistance in best practices for conflict resolution, boundaries in financing, guidelines in raising children, critique and corrections of personality flaws and other kinds of support. Every marriage has or will face conflict and having the tools to confront it wisely and effectively is a learned behavior.
A covenant marriage framework is designed to curb divorce when behavior modification is possible and embraced. Disagreement over finances is one area in particular where help from a counselor or a financial professional can pay great dividends. Financial disagreement is, in fact, the number one cause of divorce (not adultery or abuse) yet is most often left unaddressed.
Pre-marriage counselors can pinpoint red flags that perhaps someone doesn’t recognize about their significant other such as a controlling or abusive personality or a lack of character that could lead to addictive or destructive behavior. Such information might lead to temporarily postponing a marriage and more mature decisions or even cause one to abandon the bad relationship all together.
While traditional marriage offers 12 grounds for divorce, a covenant marriage doesn’t offer “incompatibility” as automatic grounds for initiating a divorce. In all other areas under Oklahoma law, the judge must verify the facts of a claim. If someone files under adultery, abuse, or insanity, etc the facts must prove the claim valid for a divorce decree to be obtained. Under a “no fault divorce” allowance, however, filing under “incompatibility” requires little proof.
Under the framework of my amended SB 105, incompatibility petitions must follow six hours of counseling within three months and then be followed by a one year “cooling off” period to allow reconciliation to occur. After the counseling mandate is met and a year has elapsed, a divorce can be granted but it’ll have been a much more deliberative and thought out process by both parties.
Of the other three covenant marriage states, the “cooling off” period can be as long as two years and they also limit the number of filing options. This bill doesn’t go as far, but it does tackle the mass utilization of “incompatibility” petitions and restructures the process.
Under a covenant marriage, adultery, physical or psychological abuse of the spouse or any children in the home, abandonment for one year, fraudulently entering into the marriage, habitual drunkenness, felony conviction by the other spouse, and insanity all remain grounds for a judge to grant an automatic divorce.
The bottom line is that a covenant marriage would simply allow individuals the OPTION of a legal framework that coincides with their vow… “til death (not disagreements) do us part”.
To contact me at the Capitol, please write to Senator Josh Brecheen, State Capitol, 2300 N. Lincoln Blvd. Room 428B, Oklahoma City, OK, 73105, email me at email@example.com, or call (405) 521-5586.